Measure for Measure is one of Shakespeare's most intriguing and ambivalent plays, exploring what, to the modern sensibility, seems rather questionable moral territory though its humanity is one of its most enduring recommendations. Exploring the concepts of justice and mercy it is ideally suited to the vast open stage of the Globe. Here the various deputies of the law can address & engage the audience directly, thus endowing the play's moral questions with a relevance universal to all.
In the state of Vienna the Duke of Vienna delegates authority to his deputy, the sanctimonious Angelo whilst secretly adopting the disguise of a friar in order to see how the notion of justice is administered in his absence. Unlike his predecessor, Angelo is anything but over-lenient, and clamps down upon any perceived immorality with a heavy hand. Arraigned under an archaic law that prohibits sexual relations between the unmarried Claudio's life lies in the balance, his only hope of delivery lies in the persuasive entreaties of his sister Isabella, a postulant nun, to the autocratic Angelo. It's a a move that backfires badly. The new deputy becomes intensely smitten by the virtue of his earnest supplicant and demands her chastity in lieu of her brother's forfeit, thus beginning a set of events covertly stage-managed by the Duke in distinctly dubious fashion.
Liam Brennan is a terrific Angelo: black-clad and ramrod straight, he's a figure of absolute inflexibility, betrayed by his own desire. Sophie Thompson is a low-key but fairly effective Isabella, a woman whose careful preservation of her virtue is powerless in the face of autocracy as she discovers in the play's final scene. Mark Rylance is more effective as the Duke than his religious counterpart, but he does, as ever, lend the production an air of quiet gravitas.Colin Hurley gives the Globe great comic relief as the vociferous Lucio and Alex Hassall is an excellent, charismatic Claudio.
At its best the Globe employs a multi-faceted, interdisciplinary approach to Shakespeare, one where music & dance are integral to the drama and on this occasion they enhances the play considerably, bringing levity to what is undoubtably a comedy of the darkest hues, one in which the spirit rather than the letter of the law is seen to be upheld.
Production photo by John Tramper
What other critics had to say.....
FIONA MOUNTFORD for THE EVENING STANDARD says, "Underpowered production does have its moments." LYN GARDNER for THE GUARDIAN says, "It is the Globe's mistake that director John Dove treats the play as if it is some sort of light-hearted comic romp." SAM MARLOWE for THE TIMES says, "Strips the play of dramatic intensity....Measure for Measure is often referred to as a problem play. If it is, Dove offers no solutions."